Computer freezes while playing games - What could be causing this?
May 11, 2011 7:46 PM   Subscribe

As the subject states, my computer freezes while playing games, and only while playing games. Am I right in thinking it's the graphics card?

Some more information:

- Semi-new motherboard + processor, known good (from my SO's computer, he upgraded and passed me the old ones)
- Old power supply (known good, from my old system)
- Brand new RAM (my old sticks didn't fit with the new motherboard, SO still needed his old sticks)
- Brand new graphics card

The computer freezes only when playing 3D games. Which game doesn't matter (World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, etc etc). Neither do the game settings - tried dragging everything down to minimum, but it'll still freeze (and to be honest, even if it did stop the freezes - I bought a card capable of playing these games at max settings, I damn well want to play them at max settings).

The freezes are very random - I can go for an entire day without seeing one, then get two in very quick succession.

The inside of the computer is free of dust and all the fans work fine.

I left a memory/CPU stress test (this one) running for 12+ hours without any errors.

To me, all this seems to point to the graphics card as the source of the issue - but I'd like to be certain, since sending the graphics card back to the place I bought it from will leave me computerless for a couple of weeks while they test it and decide whether to send me back a replacement or the original one... and I'd rather not be out the shipping money plus the computerless time if it turns out it's not the graphics card after all.
posted by sailoreagle to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like your graphics card could be overheating, do you have an application to monitor its temperature while stressing it? I think Speedfan can do it, if the built in graphics card software can't. Have it do something stressful in a windowed mode and watch the temp, see if it spikes very high before the computer freezes. If not then it might be a hilarious driver issue.
posted by token-ring at 7:57 PM on May 11, 2011

Latest drivers for everything?
posted by Rhomboid at 8:08 PM on May 11, 2011

RAM is a possible culprit too. There are some free programs you can download and run that will check your RAM and may find issues. I had a ton of issues with WoW when it first came out, turned out to be my RAM and motherboard combo. I forget the name of the memory-testing programs, but I'm sure you can google them.
posted by Joh at 8:23 PM on May 11, 2011

I'd use memtest86 to rule out main memory problems (should be more thorough than GIMPS), but it does sound like a graphics card problem. Probably not heat-related, from how you've described it.
posted by hattifattener at 8:46 PM on May 11, 2011

You're looking at the following scenarios (maybe a few more that others can chime in):

- Bad graphics card
- Bad/old video drivers
- Corrupt DirectX
- Superfetch (windows 7, especially if the HD light looks like its on solid most of the time)
- Bad motherboard capacitors
- Faulty CPU or memory (least likely however...this scenario is less freezy, more crashy)


- Did you reinstall your OS from scratch? Or did you keep your previous HD and upgrade around it?

(possible solution: Run Device Remover and delete all non present devices, be sure to change the view to HIDDEN_DETACHED before selecting all...this will usually fail on the RAS adapter which is safe to ignore)

- Did you upgrade your video and chipset drivers to the latest possible versions?
- Have you tried flashing your BIOS to the latest?
- Are you running Windows 7? If so, is the SuperFetch service running? (this service, while mostly useful, is also known to play havoc with many memory intensive games)
- Have you checked your video card and motherboard for notorius bulging capacitors? (very random results from these...usually cause more graphical glitches than anything...but I've seen faulty ones "freeze" a screen in place while the OS still runs fine in the background)

Suggestions (roughly in this order, reboot and test in between each step):

- Grab the latest versions of your graphics and chipset drivers. Consider flashing the BIOS is it is far behind.
- Try Device Remover above (only remove detached/hidden, but make use of restore points if you're unsure of what you're removing)
- Try the registry cleanup feature in CCleaner
- Turn off any uneccessary services, in particular SuperFetch and Indexing (can use this as a guide if needed. To be on the safe side, only disable ones you find to improve performance without losing functionality)
- Ensure your hardware components are firmly seated and all fans are running properly. Make sure your CPU's heatsink is firmly pressed to the CPU with the thermal compound still intact and not baked off.
posted by samsara at 9:16 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh also, if this is a custom build. Double check your motherboard's mount points to make sure no riser screws are making contact with spots other than the mount holes. It's probably not as big of an issue with cases these days...back in the 90's I once put together a system that had strange audio problems...took me weeks to figure out it was an extra metal mounting screw shorting out the audio chipset...removed it and problem solved.

(and p.p.s. if you did migrate the HD from another system...go through your control panel and remove any device managing software, like Nvidia's nView, ATI Catalyst, Intel Graphics, etc etc)
posted by samsara at 9:24 PM on May 11, 2011

Ah if only I could think of all these in one post. Also check your event viewer (mainly the System logs) for more clues on what might be happening during the freezes. You can get to these by right-clicking on My Computer and selecting Manage.

Check the device manager while there as well, for any "blips" on installed devices.
posted by samsara at 9:26 PM on May 11, 2011

My guess is heat or power. Sounds like you just put a whole bunch of new hardware into an old case, that may not have adequate cooling, or the PSU may not be putting out enough power to drive everything at max load. It doesn't sound like the graphics card overheating to me, because when a graphics card overheats, you usually get graphics artifacts/corruption before the system hangs. However, make sure you are running the latest version of the graphics drivers for your card. Next guess is either the processor is overheating (due to thermal paste issues or lack of fans) or one of the other components such as mobo sensor is detecting high temps. First thing, install Speedfan and check your temps. If your temps are fine (even while playing games), you might just need to invest in a new PSU. Otherwise, clean out the case, PSU, heatsink and drive bays with compressed air. If you can't add case fans, find a box fan, open up the case, and set the box fan up against the open side of the case.
posted by sophist at 9:59 PM on May 11, 2011

Or something as simple as your antivirus/firewall.

LotsMost modern games "phone home" - sometimes predictably, sometimes not and if your firewall is set to "ask first" then that can be a problem.

ctrl-alt-del to get to desktop to see if there's a popup. Click yes/no (remember)... and it shouldn't be a problem in the future.
posted by porpoise at 10:56 PM on May 11, 2011

The randomness points to capacitor/power issues to me. Windows Vista and Windows 7 use the 3D rendering engine to render the desktop, so that may complicate the "only during games = graphics card" rule.

I have had issues in the past where the main power will flicker, and the old, brand name computers will happily stay up, and the new computers with the fancy expensive power supplies will drop dead. Since I put my computers on UPSs, I have had FAR fewer instances of flakiness.
posted by gjc at 5:02 AM on May 12, 2011

It's almost certainly heat or drivers. Make sure you have good airflow in your case, and that your CPU is seated well with thermal paste. Try using some software to track your motherboard heat levels.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:11 AM on May 12, 2011

Response by poster: Let's see:

- I've got the latest drivers for everything;
- I did a fresh install of the operating system on a brand new hard drive;
- I've ran a temperature testing program while running games in windowed mode and let it sit there, but no spikes in temperature showed for anything (CPU, GPU, etc) before freezes.

- I've done the "box fan up to the side of the computer with an open case" thing with my old computer (which was overheating due to the fan dying on the graphics card, hence the new computer); tried it with this one but doesn't seem to solve anything, it still freezes.
(Besides, if it was a heating issue, wouldn't it keep freezing more and more frequently once I reboot it after the first freeze? That's what my old computer with the heating issue did, whereas this one doesn't - it can run fine for 10-12+ hours after I reboot it after a freeze.)

- Event log shows nothing for the freezes;
- Only recourse when it freezes is to push the reset button on the computer, as everything else (including keyboard) will stop responding.

- Everything looks fine inside the case: no bulging capacitors, no stray screws, no dust bunny family, everything firmly seated.

If it were a power supply issue, wouldn't it just... well, die? (Black screen, computer fully off - or at least mouse and keyboard would go off, etc.) Everything stays on, it's just non-responsive.
posted by sailoreagle at 10:31 AM on May 12, 2011

If it were a power supply issue, wouldn't it just... well, die? (Black screen, computer fully off - or at least mouse and keyboard would go off, etc.) Everything stays on, it's just non-responsive.

Normally, but I have a problem with my laptop were if it is docked and the dock looses power the system completely freezes. No mouse, keyboard, and the screen is stuck on the last thing it displayed. Now this does not relate to your computer much since its a laptop, but the situation is possible. If the power supply is overloaded and the voltage drops, the system might halt for some reason. Whats the wattage rating on the power supply?

Most computer stores near me will take a power supply and test it for free, do you have and (non bestbuy) computer stores nearby?
posted by token-ring at 10:43 AM on May 12, 2011

Everything stays on, it's just non-responsive.

Does the HDD continue to show activity after the screen freezes? If so you're fairly safe to assume its the video card.
posted by samsara at 5:39 AM on May 13, 2011

Response by poster: You know, I haven't actually looked to check that. I'll take a look next time I get a freeze.

...granted, my case doesn't seem to have HDD activity lights. It does have a big side window from where I can see the entirety of the motherboard, various cards, connectors etc, though. Is there any way I can tell HDD activity from looking at the computer innards?

Going by sound alone might be difficult, since I got a quiet hard drive for this computer and I'm not sure I can hear it at all over the sound of the fans, since I'm a bit hard of hearing.

(I feel so stupid asking that. It seems like something I should know.)
posted by sailoreagle at 7:58 AM on May 14, 2011

It'll degrade performance a bit, but you could try running Process Monitor to link system activity to the brief freezes. If you've ruled out SuperFetch and other services, this program may help you see what other processes kick in high gear every so often.
posted by samsara at 3:53 PM on May 15, 2011

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